In sports it’s weird when you get ready to watch what should be an epic matchup for the ages, and before kickoff, the game has already been diminished. It’s hard not to feel cheated when a player has to sit out an event for the sin of being mortal, say Jeremy Shockey missing the Super Bowl or Tiger Woods missing The Open in 2008 with an ACL injury. That how it feels going into today’s match between Brazil and Germany. You tone down your expectations just a little and it simply feels unfair to everyone involved; shortchanging the players, the game and the fans.
Brazil will be without its star striker Neymar who broke a vertebrae when (after a particularly physical and dirty game between both teams if we’re being honest) he was kneed in the back by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga. They will also be without their team captain Thiago Silva who picked up his second yellow of the tourney in the same (physical, dirty) game against Colombia and is now suspended for this match. Brazil tried to appeal Silva’s suspension, but FIFA rejected the claim saying there was no grounds for the review. Brazil still has a player named Hulk, who like his namesake seems to be all neck and everywhere this World Cup, a guy named Fred of all things, and if hope still lives in the host nation’s team, a bit a defiance that they can confound expectations and bring down the slick German machine. After a few weeks of play, politics are finally starting to creep around the edge of this World Cup (recommend reading both Dave Zirin’s column this week and The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts), and a win from Brazil somehow makes it feel less dirty, less sordid. (Of course assuaging one’s guilt only goes so far and you realize how it’s all shit about thirty seconds later.)
For their part, Germany has gone young and fast and have been an absolute delight to watch. Thomas Muller’s unending energy, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who has only allowed three goals to slip by him, the team’s speed on flanks. The two teams in theory are as evenly matched as you would see in this World Cup as far as talent, coaching and conditioning. Before the injuries, before the suspension. This afternoon we’ll find out if the game had already been set before it begun.